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Varsity students in England to return to campus from 17 May, govt made available £15m hardship fund

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A member of staff instruct a student on how to self-administer a swab for a lateral flow COVID-19 test on the first day of operation of new asymptomatic testing site in the University of Hull’s Allam Sport Centre in Hull, northern England on November 30, 2020.

The testing site, which has been established through a partnership between the University of Hull and NHS Test and Trace, is aiming to test asymptomatic university students during the first week of December in order to help them return home safely for Christmas. Students will be encouraged to get tested twice during the first week of December using Lateral Flow Devices. If they receive two negative tests they are advised to return home immediately. Should a student test positive they will be required to self-isolate for 10 days, still with enough time to return home for Christmas.

To manage the safe return of students, the Government has said all students and staff should take three supervised Covid tests, three to five days apart, at an asymptomatic testing site on campus

All students studying at universities in England will be able to return to campus from 17 May at the earliest, the Government has confirmed.

The timing of the return aligns with step three in the Government’s roadmap for exiting lockdown, coming on the same day that curbs on indoor mixing are due to be relaxed.

As with that overall easing of restrictions, the return of students to in-person teaching will be subject to a review of the latest data.

Students on courses involving a pratical component were allowed to return from 8 March, with about half of students estimated to already be eligible for face-to-face teaching.

i revealed in March that the wider return was delayed because ministers wanted to prioritise opening up the high street. However, the delay has angered both university bosses and students.

Professor Graham Galbraith, the vice-chancellor of Portsmouth University, said students were being “treated like second class citizens”.

“It is unfathomable that in-person teaching for all university students will not recommence until 17 May at the earliest,” he wrote in a blog for the Higher Education Policy Institute think-tank. “That this date is after many universities will have finished their teaching year shows a Government with a cavalier disregard for details.”

He added: “Students can now buy a book on British history in Waterstones and discuss it with a tattoo artist while they have their body decorated, but they cannot do the same thing in a Covid-secure environment with their university lecturer.”

A number of students have started a campaign called ‘Our Turn to Return’, urging the Government to let students restart face-to-face teaching as soon as their summer term begins. A parliamentary petition set-up by the campaign has attracted thousands of signatures.

Isobel Cook, a student from Oxford University involved in the campaign, said: “Students have been neglected, and their education and welfare have been trivialised.”

To manage the safe return of students, the Government has said all students and staff should take three supervised Covid tests, three to five days apart, at an asymptomatic testing site on campus.

After this, students will have access to home testing kits during the summer term through both the Government’s offer of free rapid lateral flow tests twice weekly, and a new ‘University Collect’ service, where universities will distribute tests from campus locations such as libraries.

In a written statement, the universities minister Michelle Donelan said: “The Government and I recognise just how difficult and disruptive the last year has been for students.

“However, the Roadmap is designed to maintain a cautious approach to the easing of restrictions, to ensure that we can maintain progress towards full reopening.”

To reduce the risk of students carrying the virus across the country, she said that students who have returned to campus should not move back and forth between their permanent home and student home during term time unless they met one of the exemptions.

She also said that the Government would make available an extra £15m in hardship funding to support any students who were financially struggling due to the delay in returning to university.